The not-so-minor details
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Confident in rough terrain.
Firm suspension at high speeds.
Long reach for a drink bottle.
Objects of desire, a Yeti is always very welcome here at Flow, and when it was time to select a bike to travel around the Victorian High Country riding a vast array of amazing trails we just had to have this beauty with us. The new SB5.5 is their new long travel 29er that represents the modern trail bike that won’t hold you back when you’re going real mountain biking.
What is it?
The SB5.5 is Yeti’s long-travel trail bike, it’s built with pretty aggressive parts, meaty tyres, wide bars, piggyback rear shock and massive 160mm travel 36mm diameter leg forks. Sitting below it with 29″ wheels also is the trail oriented SB4.5 and cross country racer ASR with women’s specific ASR Beti. It’s absolutely gorgeous with smooth and fluid carbon shapes and clean angles finished with a durable and stylish matte finish. Yeti are known for their attractive bikes, just take a look at those sweet lines! Worth paying for alone, almost.
Switch Infinity, oooh fancy suspension!
Yeti’s exclusive suspension design is about as unique as it comes, produced in conjunction with FOX Suspension the two little Kashima coated sliders above the bottom bracket give the bike its desired rear wheel axle path.
As the bike goes through its initial phase of travel, the carrier moves upwards on the two shafts, creating a rearward axle path putting tension on the chain for improved pedalling performance. As the bike compresses further into its travel it switches direction and moves down, creating a vertical axle path, reducing chain tension for better use of the suspension on bigger hits. There’s only slight movement in either direction and is easily serviced via pumping fresh grease into the grease ports while simultaneously pushing out old grease.
TURQ and Carbon options.
The SB5.5 can be purchased in two frame variants, Carbon and TURQ. The higher priced TRQ saves around 250-350g over the Carbon model using higher grade carbon materials. The Carbon frame comes as part as a slightly cheaper build kit options beginning at $7390. The premium TURQ option can be purchased as a frame only for $5350 (yes, we know, ouch!) and ranging from $9890 for a Shimano XT drivetrain build through to $10850 for the Eagle X01 model with the FOX suspension we’re testing.
Long way for a drink.
A total deal breaker for some, unfortunately, but the layout of the suspension leaves no space for a drink bottle to be mounted in the main frame like we’ve been accustomed to. So the mounts for a bottle cage have been shifted down on the underside of the downtube, which is a long way to reach for a drink whilst riding and the part of the bottle you put in your mouth is in direct line of debris flying off your front tyre. It’s also a little bit foreign and an eyesore to a degree, ah well, it’s a Camelbak type of bike for us.
The drivetrain, wheels, brakes, cockpit etc.
It’s a pricey one but the build kit is really quite nice, well selected to match the bike’s purpose and works together to create a highly desirable and reliable bike.
There is not one bad thing we could possibly say about the SRAM Eagle drivetrain, it’s absolutely superb in its shift, quite driving and the gear range is immense. It’s certainly the flavour of the moment, SRAM has raised the bar with this impressive stuff.
The brakes were ok, not overly powerful but the modulation is great. If you’re a fan of brakes with feeling, these will be nice, but sometimes we wished for a little more bite.
The wide bars and short stem give the Yeti a quick steering feeling with loads of stability in attack mode, but we’d probably go for some cushier grips.
The rims are nice and wide, 30mm hooray! This alone helps lift traction levels right up, with the tyre sitting nice and wide and supported with lower pressures. Wheel removal is quick release at both ends too, where many bikes are ditching the levers for a more clearance and a slimmer look at least you won’t be reaching for allen keys when removing wheels.
The fork and shock are straight off the top shelf from FOX, the Float X uses a piggyback system for a larger volume of oil to help keep its composure on longer descents and has an excellent range of tuning that is accessed easily from where you’re sitting.
The fork and shock can be tuned easily to gain a very nicely supportive bike, with a few clicks of the slow speed dials in ‘open mode’ it cancels out much of the bobbing from your pedalling and braking. This adjustment alone is gold for the setup conscious rider.
How does it ride?
Yeah, not too bad…
$10850 for just ‘not too bad!!?’
Ok, we loved it. No surprises really, these days it’s unlikely to find a bike from a reputable brand built with such great parts that won’t ride like a dream is it? Our fairly extended testing period aboard this beauty was a real pleasure, it’s comfortable all day, quiet and smooth to pedal along and quite fun to flick about and jump. We learnt that it’s not a hard out enduro race bike, more of a go literally anywhere ride anything in your path bike. It doesn’t sacrifice too much climbing or flat terrain performance by making it super long and slack, and the suspension feels very supportive when you get up and crank on the pedals out of the saddle.
Up the hills.
Despite its long travel amount, the SB5.5 is a brilliant climber, especially when you ride it alongside comparable bikes like the Norco Range or Trek Slash. The seating position is more neutral than a bike that’s aimed at descending hard, and with plenty of ground clearance and a manageable head angle, it’s really great at climbing the twisting singletrack that we might struggle on an enduro race bike.
When it was time to climb we twiddled the suspension adjustments to suit and up we went without whining.
Down the hills.
The SB5.5 is not a burly ground hugging monster, there’s the 27.5” wheel big travel SB6 for that, the trade-off for the SB5.5’s excellent all-round trail manners like we mentioned above is a firmer feeling ride in the rough. With the suspension set up just right and all the compression dials backed off, and even with fairly low tyre pressure, there is still quite a bit of feedback from the trail transferred to your hands when the speeds get high and you really start to move along. The stiff fork chassis and supportive suspension tune may have a lot to do with that, but it was certainly obvious when we jumped on the Norco Range on the same ride (which of course was no match on the climbs).
The firm ride gives the Yeti real pop and a quick direction changing feel when descending, it doesn’t take much from you to change line, jump a rut or manual through a section of the trail. A lot of the time we forgot we were riding a bike with so much travel.
With such a massive fork up the front you can really lean on it and trust it will hold a line, and paired with the 2.5” Maxxis Minion we were deliberately putting more weight over the front wheel through rough turns.
Punching it harder.
If you’re new to 29ers then it’ll take some getting used to if you’re keen to jump big and land precisely or corner down on the sides of your tyres with aggression, sure we hear everyone saying that too, but it’s also something that really becomes quite intuitive after only a short time one.
Jumping the SB5.5 at the new Bright Hero Track was a little on the nervous side to really relax and send it, but out of all the bikes around us it’d be our pick if the shuttle vehicle broke and we had to pedal to the top.
Big travel 29ers, who are they for?
Big wheels equal bigger confidence, traditionally that meant you could pair 29” wheels with less travel to gain a similar level of confidence over a smaller wheel bike with more suspension travel. But in this case, we have a fair whack of bounce – 160/140mm – with 29er wheels, a trend we’ve seen becoming increasingly popular in the last couple years.
Why big travel and big wheels too? It’s double the confidence and grip, and with the way frame geometry and component construction has improved these big bikes are not too big to get around. So when you point one at an angry trail, they just manage to calm them down a little, take the sting out of the bumps and there’s less interruption of your momentum.
Yeti were slower than most to the 29er game; we recall Yeti being quite averse to the bigger wheel size when the bigger brands began to push them hard. They even named their first 29er the Yeti Big Top referring it as a ‘clown bike’. Fast forward to 2017 and not only has the public wholly accepted 29” diameter wheels, the industry has successfully managed to produce great riding 29ers, and Yeti have strong representation of them in their well-curated range.
Does it make hard trails easier ride?
Yes, we think so. Jumping between a fairly traditional 27.5” wheel bike and a long travel 29er like this one, or the Trek Slash or Norco Range we certainly felt more capable on hard sections of trail right away. The steep chutes don’t feel as steep, the rocky surfaces don’t seem to require as much attention to get through and it feels harder to break traction on sketchy surfaces. Even on the climbs, the grip provided by meaty tyres on big wheels with wide rims feels endless.
So yes, these bikes to tend to make trails easier to ride. But on the flip side that also can mean that you can ride them quicker, and with an aggressive style, these things are scary fast.
Does Richie Rude race one?
We couldn’t care less, if he doesn’t race it, it’s almost a good thing to us. Too often do we see everyday riders look towards the pros on what to ride, when they are on a completely different level. Yeti has the SB6 for that, a far more aggressive bike with the suspension and geometry for charging mighty hard.
Where did we ride it?
The SB5.5 came with us on our mammoth Ride High Country road trip which took in a seriously diverse array of trails over a whole week of exploring and filming. From clawing our way around the jangly tracks of Mt Beauty, boosting big tabletops and hauling through towering berms on the Bright Hero Trail to cruising blissful singletrack in Yackandandah we found it super reliable and it held its own no matter where we took it.
Its versatility is its finest asset, if you don’t know what’s ahead you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more reassuring bike to ride.
The new generation of Yeti frames use internal cable routeing with rubber grommets at the ports to secure and quieten the gear cable, seatpost and brake lines. On our test bike the grommet for the gear cable never sat in its place properly and eventually fell out somewhere on the trail. Not a big deal, but an area where we’d expect Yeti to have all their ducks in a row. And the grips are super-thin, we’d swap them out for something thicker and cushier.
Why so expensive?
There are no two ways about it, these bikes are a fair hit to the back pocket and always have been. Is it the boutique brand thing? Is it the Colorado-based brand’s smaller size in comparison to the mass-market producers, or is it the US dollar vs ours? Sure it all contributes to it, but the best thing you can do it don’t compare them to the big brands and appreciate the craft, deep heritage, cutting-edge design, fine details and supreme quality of a top-dollar Yeti.
Get one or not?
If you’re in the market for a Yeti in the first place you have great taste, they are not your average mountain bike, they are pure class and it’s obvious they push the envelope in suspension design. Their catalogue may be small but it’s precise, they offer a bike for all type of rider. The SB5.5 may not be as grounded and plush as others on the faster descents, but it strikes a very good balance everywhere else making it one of our favourite all-day trail bikes.
This one comes at a price, but represents the cutting edge of the modern trail bike that’ll go up, down and over anything in style.